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How new owners at The Green Frog are 'bringing some Brooklyn' to Fort Wayne

"We do want to do something that feels very welcoming, which is how we feel about our Brooklyn bars. You come in; you know the bartender and the people you’re going to see. "
How new owners at The Green Frog are 'bringing some Brooklyn' to Fort Wayne
Corey Noble (raised in Waynedale) and his wife, Stephanie Bonner, moved to Fort Wayne this year from New York, after buying the Green Frog from Cindy Henry.

If you’ve lived in Fort Wayne for a while, you might know the Green Frog as the longtime local business of Cindy Henry, wife of Mayor Tom Henry. But after 20 years of ownership and a pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2022, Cindy sold her beloved Frog to a new couple in Fort Wayne: Corey Noble and Stephanie Bonner.

Noble was born and raised in Waynedale before moving to New York for about 15 years to pursue a career in acting. While there, he began working as a bartender to make ends meet, which led him to become a part-owner of several neighborhood bars across Brooklyn and Manhattan. In doing so, he teamed up with his now-wife, Bonner, who was also involved in New York’s acting and hospitality scenes.

Together, the couple relocated to the Midwest in the spring of 2023 to take over the Green Frog, where they hope to “bring some Brooklyn back to Fort Wayne” with a focus on craft beer and cultivating a welcoming, come-as-you-are community in the Bloomingdale neighborhood.  

We sat down with Noble and Bonner to learn more about their story, why they chose Fort Wayne and what’s new at the Green Frog.

Corey Noble and Stephanie Bonner

First, tell us a little bit about yourselves and what led you to buy the Green Frog.

CN: I’m a born and bred Fort Wayner. I actually got my first bartending gig at Club Soda, back when you could smoke cigars there (circa 2003). I’ve been bartending since then, and over the course of the last 10 years, I became a partner in opening several neighborhood bars in Brooklyn and Manhattan. They’re all about 1,000-1,500 square-foot spots, with back porches or patios. Only two of them really have a kitchen; the others offer bar snacks with a focus on craft beer, whiskeys and that neighborhood, small-scale vibe.  

A few years ago, I met Stephanie when she took my job bartending at Amsterdam Ale House, and she ended up getting involved in the city’s craft beer scene, working for a year at the first female-founded brick-and-mortar brewery in New York City called TALEA.

Around that time, we decided we wanted to buy a bar of our own, and when we learned the Green Frog in Fort Wayne was available, we thought it was an incredible opportunity. We started talking with Cindy Henry in the fall of 2022, right after we got married. Then we bought the bar, found a house in the 07 and moved here in January.

The Green Frog is located at 820 Spring St.

How has it been going so far at the Green Frog?

CN: The Green Frog was so inextricably tied to Cindy Henry that it’s been a little challenging to make it feel like ours. But we have tried our best to keep everything that makes it special and add our own twists to make it more efficient and welcoming. We’ve had so many new regulars, and people have been very positive about what we’re doing, too, which is encouraging.

We have a patio that is all new. It used to be two big metal tables that served as more of a smokers’ lounge. Now it's a welcoming place to eat, drink and watch TV outside. We’ve added some variance to the tables indoors, too, with new high tops and more TVs to show ball games. Menu-wise, we’ve added frozen drinks, and we’re trying to expand the Frog’s beer repertoire and whisky choices, while simplifying its food menu to a smaller number of well-done, favorite dishes. We’re currently updating the menu, so we encourage you come in, and try it out.

A new patio at the Green Frog features seating, games and an outdoor TV.

You still own shares at a few bars in the New York area. Any places we might know?

CN: The one that’s been there longest is Fourth Avenue Pub in Brooklyn near Barclays Center. There’s also Washington Commons in Brooklyn, and its claim to fame is that Lena Dunham mentioned it in the show “Girls.” She said something about how it’s one of the bars her friends like hanging out at because it’s not a “typical hipster bar.” But it’s a great space, and it’s got a giant backyard for friends to congregate. 

Tell us more about your mission to bring some Brooklyn to Fort Wayne. 

CB: Fort Wayne already has a lot of great bars — places I’ve loved going to growing up, like Henry’s and the Brass Rail. So we’re not trying to say that we’re doing anything better than they are. But we want to do something that feels very welcoming, which is how we feel about our Brooklyn bars. You come in; you know the bartender and the people you’re going to see. 

It’s like an adult coffee shop, and that’s what we believe a good bar should be, especially in this very political and fractious time we’re all living in. At the end of the day, I’m not any more a New Yorker than I am a Waynedaler. I was a poor kid who grew up in Waynedale, spent some time in New York, and now I’m back home. We’re all just trying to figure it out and hoping to have a good time while we do it, and that’s the atmosphere we’re trying to bring to the Green Frog.

SB: Our goal is really about creating a safe space and open community here. New York is known for being a place where the people who live there have your back. New Yorkers support each other, and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. We’d love for the Green Frog to feel that way, like a bar full of people who love and support one another.

Stephanie Bonner previously worked for the first female-founded brick-and-mortar brewery in New York City called TALEA.

You’ve mentioned making the transition from Brooklyn to Fort Wayne. What would you tell other East or West coasters considering moving here?

SB: I grew up in California, and it was actually a smaller town than Fort Wayne, but I always considered myself a “coastal person.” So when Corey and I first started talking about moving to Fort Wayne, I was skeptical. But the more we visited, the more I saw how much there is to do here and met people doing cool things. Living here now, I’ve been blown away by the people I’ve met and everything there is to do. One of the coolest things about living in a smaller city is that you get to be so much of what makes it special, and there are so many people creating their own community here.

CN: When we were thinking about moving to Fort Wayne, we had a huge desire to create a more intentional sense of community, which can almost get lost in Brooklyn, where everyone is “go go go” all the time. Living here gives you a chance to breathe a bit, and our dogs definitely love it, too. (We have a lab-pit mix and an Australian shepherd.)

How do you see Fort Wayne’s bar and restaurant scene evolving?

CN: I think the appreciation for new and unusual cocktails and food is growing. It’s a little cheesy to say, but I also think there’s growing appreciation for creating a vibe or atmosphere in Fort Wayne. I recall reading a lot of articles during the pandemic about how restaurant workers are becoming essential workers in cities because people don’t go to cities just for jobs or industries. They go to explore places with great food, drinks and energy.

It seems like Fort Wayne is offering more variety of events and places that appeal to different types of people, too. The community has more burlesque shows and drag shows, more farmers markets and more costume contests, which helps more people feel at home here.

Stephanie Bonner recommends Laser in the Jungle beer by Hop River or Dino Party by Junk Ditch.

What are some of the events you’re hosting at the Green Frog?

SB: Some of our most popular events are our weekly Karaoke Nights on Friday and Saturdays at 9:30 p.m. We’ve also done one-off gatherings, like a Spooky Soiree with our friends at Du Jour Events around Halloween. 

We have a small, but mighty staff of about four people right now, so we’re open Wednesday-Thursday 5 p.m.-midnight and Friday-Saturday 5 p.m.-2 a.m. We tried doing lunch and Sunday brunch service, but staffing shortages have required us to adjust our hours. That said, we’d love to bring back our weekend Drag Brunch, as staffing allows.

Our idea of brunch at the Green Frog isn’t fancy. It’s more like a casual hangout with Bloody Marys. We see ourselves in the space between fancier brunch spots, like Ophelia’s, and classic diners, like Klemm’s. We hope our weekly events and daily specials, like $1 wings on Wednesdays and Sundays, help us bridge more gaps in age and inclusivity, too. 

CN: We’ve heard that a lot of people have considered the Green Frog an “old man bar” in the past. And while we certainly still welcome older patrons, we also want to welcome people of all races, creeds, colors and sexual orientation. That’s been part of our thinking behind hosting events, like Drag Brunch. We want to create a space where anyone can come in, feel welcome, and have a good time without judgment.

What are some of your other favorite local places around town? 

SB: From the first time I came to Fort Wayne, I’ve gone to Henry’s, so it’s always the first place that comes to mind when I think of Fort Wayne, and there’s something sentimental about ending the night there or at the Brass Rail for live music. There are so many great newer spots, too, like Ophelia’s, doing brunch with a nice aesthetic. We also enjoy hanging out on The Landing and bouncing back and forth between beers at Gnometown and margaritas at Mercado.

CN: We also always know we’ll run into friends at O’Sullivan’s or Deer Park. Those places feel like home, and we want the Green Frog to be a place that feels like home for our customers, too. We want it to feel like your second living room.

Try it! Are you a paid subscriber to The Local? This month, we’re teaming up with the Green Frog to bring all paid subscribers a free draft beer with any food purchase! Become a paid subscriber now to claim your offer!

On the menu: Bonner recommends Laser in the Jungle beer by Hop River or Dino Party by Junk Ditch. Noble recommends a Tecate Wild, where you add salt and hot sauce to a can of Tecate.